President Sauli Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin made a joint statement on Thursday morning, reaffirming their nation’s desire to join NATO. The country refrained from requesting membership during the Cold War, but made a complete U-turn after the Russian attack on Ukraine in February.
NATO claims to be a purely defensive organization, but Russia, which shares a 1,340 km (833 km) land border with Finland, perceives the bloc’s expansion as a threat to national security. Moscow warned that Helsinki would lose its status as a reliable mediator as its non-aligned stance gave it for much of the last century. It also said that Finland’s security would be jeopardized rather than served by joining NATO, as Russia would have to respond to expansion.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which according to Moscow was partly motivated by NATO’s insidious expansion into the country, led public opinion in Finland to join the bloc. According to the latest opinion polls, about three quarters of the population are in favor of the move.
A special government body that includes the two highest-ranking Finnish officials and several members of the government is expected to meet later this week to write a formal application, which will then be submitted to the Finnish Parliament for approval.
The legislative body of each current NATO ally must then approve the request before Finland becomes a member. Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said this week that the process will be completed in October at the earliest and can take as long as 12 months.
The Nordic country Sweden is also a potential applicant, but there is some disagreement in the government as to whether it should apply for membership in NATO. The country has a tradition of freedom of alliance that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars. Opinion polls show that about half of Swedes are currently in favor of joining NATO.
Sweden’s Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist said earlier this week that if his country submits an application to join NATO, he would prefer it to be processed together with Finland’s tender.